Diggin Cafe, Connaught Place

Diggin, Connaught Place.
Selfies
Delhi at Night

I’m told I should get my act together and start doing things, that make me ‘feel like myself’. So, one has yet again, started going through the motions-solo dates, driving needlessly while blasting music to literally, deafen myself and of course smoking bidis, occasionally! For five minutes, they teleport me to a sand dune in Pushkar. Works but that can’t be a solution.

The newly opened Diggin cafe, in Connaught Place, is a pleasant beanery to spend an evening alone. Next to the Museum of illusions in A block, this is the third outlet of the Diggin chain. The ambience is just as pleasant and the food is as palatable. Though, there’s no outdoor seating available but the bar will make up for that I guess, as none of the other outlets serve alcohol.

For an evening out by yourself, it’s safe and friendly. Anyone who likes to hang out by themselves, in this city will tell you how people always raise their eyebrows, seeing a person enjoy their own company- that’s a given. When you’re alone, you’re given the worst seating and ‘is anyone joining you?’ is asked, in a rather condescending tone, sometimes. Not at Diggin. The staff was very friendly and the service, fabulous. So, drop in- alone, with a lover, with your family, whatever pleases you.

Igloo Cafe- Gulmarg

The Igloo, in Gulmarg isn’t an abode for Eskimos and hunters, rather it’s a cafe for travellers, an attraction for anyone who likes the snow or kahwa to bear the chilly winters of the Vale. My solo trip to Gulmarg, wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the newest, trendiest cafe in Kashmir.

Syed Waseem Shah, the owner/ creator/ artist, of the Igloo Cafe, is the brain behind this innovative space. I didn’t get to meet him nor did I meet many people there, as I went too early. The tourists were busy skiing, so they would saunter in much later, told me the manager. He was kind enough to keep me entertained, by providing information and taking pictures of me.

If like me, you’re strolling around Gulmarg and can’t figure out where it is, look for the Kolhai Hotel. Pay the nominal entry fee and step into an approximately fifteen feet high, cave like structure made of snow, which can accommodate maximum sixteen people at a time. As of now, there are limited items on the menu, since there’s always the fear of the snow structure melting, with the heat of the food and beverages, I was told. I didn’t care. Give me any kind of tea, anywhere, anytime and I’m sold.

Solo Date #68- Downtown Srinagar

Solo date at Kathi Junction, downtown.
Downtown Srinagar

The 4g may not work, till the Jio fibre isn’t installed in every house in Kashmir. But don’t think, that stops the grapevine and the rapid flow of information. Last night I received a call from the ex assistant. ‘ You went to shoot the Sunday market?’ he asked. ‘You read it on my blog, na?’ I answered. ‘No! I received a photograph of you!’ he replied to my disbelief. He sent me a photo, that had been taken from a distance and from behind a few people. So, I can be seen in the corner of the frame. I had removed my mask for a bit, as I was getting a runny nose and someone actually shot me, sent it to someone else and then it reached my Mother hen, who is not even in Kashmir. ‘Aap ko kitni bar bola he, nazar rakhte he yahaan log. Dekh kar chalo!’ He seemed damn annoyed.

Anyway, as you must have figured one doesn’t pay heed to other people’s advice. So, I walked to downtown. First, I went to Pir Dastagir Sahib, chatted with the locals there. Then, I bounced to Naqahband Sahib. The degree of friendliness, rapidly reduced as I walked towards Nawhatta. Before I entered the Dargah, a man approached me and started pestering me about my camera. ‘I’m warning you, the boys don’t like all this!’ he tried to scare me. ‘Well, the boys over here don’t do anything to anyone and they will not do anything to me! I know!’ I matched his rudeness word by word.

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Solo Date #67- Mehrauli

One has fallen in love, with where the Stones Speak. On Saturdays I don’t work before 9 p.m and since one has to catch an early morning flight tomorrow, it was nice to spend the day lazying around in Mehrauli.

In the afternoon, I caught the poetry walk organised by Ramit and Prerakh, a semi bathak of sorts discussing the various Urdu poets, in the park. Nicely done, though, one would have wanted to hear a few more anecdotes about the poet’s lives. I guess, when you’re moving from one place to the other, it’s distracting. Plus, one isn’t a fan of the herd, one likes things to move at snails pace. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable afternoon, the facilitators friendly and easy going.

But, miye ki daud masjid tak and one is a creature of habit. So, off I headed to the Dargah, where I sat for probably fifteen minutes as the qawali came to an end and got invited to the Qawal’s son’s wedding. Which I regretfully, had to decline due to the travel plans. I love this part of my job, getting undeserved access into other people’s lives. While walking back, I just stopped for a quick bite, picked up a kathi roll, sat on the steps of Bhool Bhulaiya, which has become my favourite spot in the city after my flyover and eat. Just when I was thinking, this would be a nice spot, for a date- Qutub minar on one side, a monkey climbing the board infront of me, sensing this, a stray dog came and sat next to me.

We had a few moments of what I think dates should be like, with plenty of non verbal communication -looking into each other’s eyes and eating. His stomach full, he went off to sleep near my foot, as I listened to Ahista, ahista and watched the shabe roz ka tamasha, mere aage, the hustle bustle of a street in Delhi. After what seemed like time moving in fast forward, I got up and started to walk towards my car. Tomorrow, it’s going to be a different place but one will remain, bheed me tanha.

Khudda

www.facebook.com/a100reflections/videos/367705998005533/

Might sound like a cliche’ but sometimes all you need is God. Received a forward from the Gaddi Nasheen, of the Dargah, informing me that the Urs is taking place, from tomorrow and all the provisions are in place, the guidelines related to the ongoing pandemic are being followed. I may be impulsive enough to go for the shoot but I’m not silly enough, to not check how safe it will be.

So, of course I went to check out the place today, to prepare for tomorrow. As I was leaving, my help Bhaskarji, looked at me very suspiciously. ‘ Didi, aap jahan jaa rahee ho wah par woh ladka hoga? ‘ ‘ Kaunsa ladka?’ I asked him impatiently, as I was getting late. ‘ Jisko itni bari hum raat ko TV pe dekhte hein!’ My face turned crimson. So the ladka in question, is this boy I’ve had a crush on, for a year, now. Someone you just see on a YouTube video and find fascinating na, like I have a gigantic crush on Ravish Kumar, something like that. I never realised Bhaskarji, will put two and two together just because he heard me asking my father the other day, ‘isn’t he so cute?’ and make it forty. He tells me so the person in question, is Muslim and you’re going to going to a Dargah, that’s why I thought. I should learn to keep my gab shut. As if travelling, to Kashmir and Pushkar was not bad enough, with people wondering who I’m meeting there. Anyhow, it’s when the love life, is non existent, there are plenty of stories that do the round.

So back to God- to get anyone to wear a mask is difficult. But to get kids to wear them, I realised today, impossible. Plus, since I have become this round ball, children because of my height and size, assume I’m their age. So they like to come near me, pull my cheeks, hug me. For the first time, I realised today, It’s so difficult to shoot a kid and not let them touch you. I don’t think shooting is going to be very easy or safe or smart on my part. But like my favourite lines go, ‘apne aage na peeche, na koi uppar neeche….’ or like dad says, ‘ Sheikh apni, apni dekh!’ I think, I’ll just distribute the masks I’ve bought to give away, there only.

Anyhow, if you are hurting, lost or like me scattered in the brain and the heart, listening to some live qawwali at this particular Dargah, of Khwaja Kaki, might give you some relief. It felt like an out of body experience, so overwhelming, a stream of tears just flowing into my mask, while I was clapping and singing with the qawwals. Since, there were hardly any people there, it felt like sitting at home, in Ibadat and unlike the Nizammudin Dargah, which sends a shiver down my spine, each time I visit, which is only and always for work, this one has a brilliant energy. I think I’ll get some sleep today. But for now, if you have people who care about your well being, I would advice you to stay away.

Solo Date #65- Brew Bakes

Brewbakes, Srinagar

A franchisee of the pan India, coffee shop- Brew Bakes, can now be found on the Boulevard in Srinagar. As it was just a stone throw away from my hotel, I spent a lot of time here, alone and even with friends. From pizzas to pastas, kathi rolls and burgers, their menu is an interesting mix of fusion food.

Though I sat indoors, as I was hot and sweaty having spent most days, just walking around, getting tanned ( family- hai waise hi kali si, sunscreen bhi nahin lagandi), the outdoor seating is perfect for catching up in the evenings. They open early, around nine, so it’s an idle spot for breakfast meetings. With a view of the Dal, can anything be better?

Solo Date 64- Wok The Walk

Sometimes I don’t realize that this blog, is not my private diary but a platform, that is followed by my friends. The minute I posted last night, I started getting messages and calls from concerned friends. This year has been especially good at sieving the good from the unimportant.

Went to grab a meal to clear my head. On the Boulevard, there’s Wok The Walk. A quaint little place with an open kitchen and decent chinese food. The food is alright, the view and the service good. It seemed like the kind of place, which is frequented by students. Check it out.

Solo Date- New Year’s Eve

As no one is a celebratory mood this year, after the death of so many people, one’s working on New Year Eve. So this year New Year’s Eve is on the road with the one’s who want change!

Solo Date # 64-Hunger Club

On an afternoon in March, when I had a couple of hours between two appointments, I went to Hunger Club. The previous night, I had eaten at my favourite haunt in Kashmir-a small dhaba called Paakezah and opposite that is this newly opened, swanky restaurant in Rajbagh.

Post lunch it was fairly deserted- too late for the locals to eat and no tourists in town. The chicken was delicious, but it was the company that was quite interesting. No, I didn’t go with someone, it was while I was there, by myself, enjoying my meal, that I met the owner. I was just going about my routine, eating, chatting with the waiter, in this case making a few suggestion about the place, when the owner overheard the conversation and asked if he could join me. Anywhere else in India, I will look a man up and down, think ‘what the hell does this one want?’ and utter something quite obnoxious to make the man split. In Kashmir, I’m someone else, quite chatty, unlike my usual porcupinal ways.

The conversation of course remained about Kashmir, we were joined by a friend of the person who sat opposite me. Before I knew it a couple of hours had passed and though I was asked very subtly, if I was a Khalistan sympathiser (which is the the rudest thing I have ever been asked. I didn’t want to stay in Hemkunt Colony and I definitely would never move to Punjab…so I don’t need a Khalistan, thank you very much) it was a fairly engaging, well spent afternoon.

Solo traveller in Kashmir

I took the flight day before yesterday, hoping the journey would be less frightening than last times. More than a month ago, I got on an Indigo flight to Srinagar. Due to turbulence, the journey was so uncomfortable, that the thirty people who were returning from Umrah, started chanting Allah’s name, a woman started vomiting and I too was left feeling sick to my stomach. Due to my general absentmindedness, I told my Dad I was flying Go and throughout the misadventure, I kept thinking that if the plane crashes, my parents wouldn’t even know I was on this particular flight. But this was better, we landed ahead of time. Comfortably? Nothing about flying makes me feel comfortable, in the first place!

The lamba chauda Jat ( reminded me of the ex) who I met at the hotel last time, had sent me photographs of the tulips from his official, weekend trip. Assuming, I too would be able to find some, I dropped my bags and rushed out. I got on a shared cab, which took twenty bucks from me and dropped me, close to the garden. I walked, bouncing away to glory, as I usually do, listening to something cheesy, while the uniformed men, eyed me suspiciously. The sign at the door said, ‘closed to general public’. Since, I don’t understand signs, I end up pulling where it says push and pushing where it says pulls, invariably I’ve headed right into the men’s loo more times than you can imagine (absolutely sober,fyi) I just pushed the door and walked in. Once, I walked in, then they couldn’t throw me out. I searched for tulips and found a few, which had withered. Two older gentlemen working there, then took me to the official area, where I found the last tulips of the season. As I was walking out, there were a lot more men at the gate, who looked at me curiously. One tried stopping me, ‘aap aayee kaise, andar madam?’. ‘ Jadu, se sir, aur ab jadu sai ja rahee hu!’ Off I ran.

In the evening, I went for the Urs of Batmaloo Sahib. My experience with the boys of the area, hasn’t been pleasant. That’s the only place in Kashmir, where the stone pelters have hurled abuses at me and I genuinely feel scared of them. Not having any of the boys, who have worked with me earlier, doesn’t help. I no longer have a mediator. My main man, is sitting in a far away land, trying to earn money for his entire family and should hopefully, be back on vacation, before my next trip.

As soon as I walked towards where the Ferris wheels were, I wanted to crawl underground. There were so many young boys there, some who I recognised and most who recognised me. They stood there, pointing towards me, all their heads turned in my direction. ‘Mar gayee, aaj to tu mar gayee’, I hummed to myself. Tried to make some photographs but the constant surveillance, hassled me, too much. I called one of them over to clear things, ‘kyaa hua?’, I asked. ‘Kuch nahin, hum aap ko jante he!’ replied the eighteen year old. ‘I’m not here to take pictures of any of you, I’m not looking for trouble, I’m just here for the fair!’ I said, feigning a sternness, only SB can pretend to have. He nodded, smiled and then went to inform the rest. I took some pictures, went to the Dargah, to which I was followed but by then I knew, they weren’t going to do anything, for now. Made some more pictures, walked out of there, knowing I was being tailed, caught an auto and stopped at the Boulevard, went to a restaurant to eat (hide) and then came back to my hotel.

You would assume, this would stop me from going back but a girl’s got to do, what a girl’s got to do! So, last evening I went back. The rain kept most people away and the boy from my hotel reception, came to check on me. He took me around, showed me his family graveyard and then we stood in one corner, in plain sight, chatting as it rained. Once enough people saw me with a Kashmiri man, I knew I was safer. As soon as it stopped raining, he went away and I went back to my business. Made a live video, distributed my card, by the time I return today, hopefully, they will be rest assured, I am not an Indian spy!

Solo Date #63- -Daawat, Srinagar

After one of my evening strolls, I dropped in for dinner at the Welcome Hotel. The meal was decent, of course for Mughlai food, Shamyana is a better option. But it was a nice change from the usual, the ambience better, the place quieter and the staff was extremely courteous.

Solo Date #62- Peerzoo Island Restaurant, Srinagar

A photographer’s life is full of adventure. But it’s physically trying and a lot of the times, risky. On this particular day it was cake walk, as it was the launch of Jammu Kashmir People’s Movement. It’s nice to bump into all the photographers, who one usually only meets under more strenuous circumstances. But hanging around fraternising isn’t my cup of tea!

So after the launch I took a stroll on the Bund and eat at the island restaurant. There’s seating on the deck but there were a group of boys busy taking pictures of themselves…I didn’t want to spoil their frame. So I sat inside, which was quite interesting. I ordered some noodles and watched couple after couple, walking in. Part of the room had demarcations between tables made with cane which were like small cubicles, that give the utmost privacy to young adults who don’t want the entire city to know, who they are hanging out with. It reminded me of my first solo, horrific trip to Srinagar. So some fellow (like I always say, if you don’t want trouble stray clear of the wealthy men in Kashmir) who had apparently visited the Osho Ashram, was taking me around town. After a trip to Shalimar, we went to some restaurant to eat. Of course it had this kind of privacy and of course the meal and conversation was meant to flatter me but they didn’t.

Surrounded by water, the landing for speed boats makes it accessible from various parts of the city. I should have been on one of them, rather than strolling through the busy Sunday market and then walking up towards the Jhelum.

Solo Date #61- Safa sweets and Veg Restaurant

Nestled inside the Akbar Residency in Sonwar, is Safa, a vegetarian restaurant, which I chanced upon on one of my walks. At eight in the evening, one would expect more people but unfortunately there were hardly any tourists in Srinagar.

If you’re vegetarian and want to skip the overcrowded Krishna Dhaba, this is a decent option. The ambience is better, the service too, as for the food, it’s quite decent.

Solo Date #60- pushkar

One is travelling for leisure, for a change. Three days without the camera, away from home ( In Mumbai too but over there it was a family emergency) is a first. Ofcourse it lies in the room with the many books that lie on my bed. I don’t sleep alone, you see.

As I wandered around aimlessly through the market place, picking up gifts, I heard the sound of the Nagara coming from the ghats. It pulled me towards itself as my body moved with the rhythm. A group of foreigners played the nagara with two Indian drummers. I was invited to join them. So there I sat with drum sticks after ages, playing away with the rest of them as the sun set infront of me. Jamming with Nathulal Solanki’s boys on the ghats of Pushkar, is a first. Starting the year with that priceless.

Motors

I arrived last evening and as soon as I did, it was like coming back to life. Met a few people, ate and crashed. Since the past two days had been quite hectic, I woke up exhausted. But since I am supposed to be leaving tomorrow for a trek, (no, not alone) I decided to stay in Srinagar and look around. But before that, the car seat which had been damaged by a person who was trying to help me, in Ramban with some battery issues, needed to be fixed. Driving around with no back support, on mountainous terrains is harder than you can imagine.

So off I went to the service centre at Nowgam. They couldn’t fix the seat but they got it into a position where atleast I get back support. To recline it they taught me a jugaad method. So much for highly automated cars, they come with their own set of issues which local mechanics are too afraid to fix and the service centres in smaller cities, don’t always stock their spare parts. But considering how well behaved my car always is, I should’nt bitch about it.

Talking about cars, after the service station I went to check out the Motor Cafe in Srinagar. Situated in Raj Bagh, it’s a very hip joint, perfect for off-roading groups, biker groups or travellers in general. The theme based decor is fascinating with pistons, crankshafts etc adorning the walls and with an engine that stands near the entrance, greeting everybody. Everyone by now must have figured out, one of my favourite places to sleep, is in my car. I took the table, where they have actual car seats to sit on. Oh, I shit you not, I was so tempted to recline the seat and sleep.

Though, it was supposed to be a solo date, I was joined by a friend as soon as I ordered my chicken and iced tea. Which was great because ‘Khappu’ ( a nickname my friends have given me) has a sweet tooth and she could share a chocolate crepe, as well.

Jammu Kashmir Police Troubles Woman For Being Alone

I sit in my favourite seat watching all the vehicles pass me by. In front of the forest check department in Ramban, trucks as well as private vehicles pass me by, while they stop me under the garb of my security but actually to check and cross check my credentials, repeatedly.

Giving up is not my strong suit unless it’s on men on whom I give up, before I even begin. You would think these hindrances would deter me but it’s the unpredictability of the place, the beauty and the conflict that holds the interest of the opposing characters within me. It’s an adventure yet so bothersome for the people who care about my well-being. As they make frantic phone calls back and forth I’m fascinated with the scene that plays before me, infuriated yet fascinated. SB is at her abusive best and SC for her everything is like an Ali Bachchan film, larger than life, everyone a character and every instance a story.

More and more cars pass by. The number of armed men reduce. One hour of waiting after the tunnel and another goes by at Ramban. Slowly the masked men doze off on their chairs The JKP makes half witted attempts to check people. After all it’s 3 o’clock. They wait for me to back off…I wait for them to back down.

Eid Ul Fitr

Eid ul Fitr- the feast of breaking the fast, is celebrated with great fervour by the Muslim community all over the world. The culmination or the grand finale to the fasting in the Holy month of Ramadan, is the festival of Eid Ul Fitr.

With over 1.5 billion adherents across the globe each country has it’s own traditions in which the festival is celebrated, after all there are over 50 Muslim majority countries in the world.

But wherever a Muslim is from, whichever sect he belongs to and whatever traditions he follows after the Eid Namaaz, irrespective of all that the men are required to pray together, in a Jamaat ( congregation) on Eid. In India, the men wear brand new kurta pyjamas, which are usually white, put on some Itar plus the skull cap and head to the Masjid. Eidi is distributed amongst the children and Seviyaan is relished by one and all and of course a Salman Khan film releases and becomes a super duper hit ( considering how mediocre Race 3 is, I have my doubts about this one).

Zakir Nagar

If you are looking to open ( break) your fast ( Roza khulta he) in South Delhi you can head to Zakir Nagar, Batla house or Jamia Nagar. Since it was a Sunday, I decided to make my way towards unchartered territory for Iftar.

Since, the Muslims friends I called recommended the usual places everyone heads to Jama Masjid and Ferozeshah Kotla for shooting the month of Ramazan, I wasn’t prepared for the how’s and where’s. The result can be seen in the forth image.

After the Jamia Millia Islamia metro station, I was diverted towards Jamia Nagar by the cop who told me I would find parking there. I found a spot right behind a truck which was parked opposite Waffle hustle. I parked and then came the after thought, that it was too close and somehow despite the camera, managed to reverse the car, in such a skilful manner, that it got stuck. Hum vaise he car itni lajawaab parking karte he, Mashallah!

Anyway, right at that moment I realised I forgot to carry my wallet. Asked the people outside Waffle Hustle for help and they immediately came to the rescue of the damsel. Around twenty minutes later, I went back towards the Metro Station and parked my car by the side of the road and ran out as I heard the Azaan.

It was like Purani Dilli minus the congested streets. Though, I don’t cover my head in CC, I loved walking the streets with my head covered ( my idea of liberation has absolutely nothing to do with garments) wearing my sneakers, camera around my neck, chatting with all and sundry as the evening turned to night.

Though, I didn’t eat a bite, everything looked sumptuous. I will be visiting really soon sans the camera and with my wallet of course. So should you!

Solo Date #59- Hyderabad

A visit to Hyderabad, is incomplete without visiting the old city. The famous Charminar a monument and mosque, stands tall in Laad Bazaar. There are various accounts of why, the Minar was built, some mention that when Cholera was eradicated, the spot where the Minar stands is where Qutb Shah prayed for the end of plague. According to folklore it was built on the spot where he glanced at his future wife- Bhagmati.

Whatever the reasons for the construction, the security personnel came under scrutiny in 2016 , when they tried to stop a single female traveller from entering the terrace. Apparently, they said it was for her own safety as a woman had committed suicide from there in the past. With my camera bag and all, I usually don’t have to prove that I’m a tourist, unless one is in Kashmir, that’s where I’m going around pointing at my Dad’s Sikh name on my Id, to prove it! But in Hyderabad, I face no issues.

I make my way to the Makkah Masjid, which is one of the largest in India; break some bread at Nigeen Naan, which makes me nostalgic about cold winter mornings in Kashmir and then head to Bawarchi for the famous Hyderabadi biryani. Nothing about the city, makes me uneasy.

Solo Date #58- Kushinagar

Kushinagar

One wishes one was in Kushinagar, on the occasion of Budh Purnima. The Parinirvana temple, which I visited this April is a Buddhist stupa and is said to be the death place of Gautam Budh.

Solo Date #57-Gorakhpur

Since I will be updating all the solo dates from the past years travels on the website, I am skipping the chronology. Anyway, having arrived at Gorakhpur at a reasonably decent hour, I stepped out for dinner.

It would have been better if I had stayed in my room. As it is the beautiful pimple on my lip, no it’s not a sore, I checked, is making me very uncomfortable. To top not only was the food bad…even the beverage was!

Solo Date #56-Tirupati

Though Tirupati left a bad taste in my mouth due to the intolerance, the food at Fortune was fab.

Solo Date #55-Chennai

Solo Date #53-Rameswaram

Solo Date #51- Kochi

After Kashmir, if there is any other place where I can see myself settling down, it is in Kochi (if I miss Kashmir, there are lots of Kashmiris to chat with especially around the Fort area). Quaint, with the right mix of traditional and modern, I absolutely fall in love with the vibe and the people.

Solo Date #50- Backwaters

I am too damn claustrophobic and paranoid to stay in a houseboat. Spend the night in a cheap motel and take a shikara ride the next day. I’m short on time, so I don’t do the whole nine yards. A bite and a few photographs at Tasty land later, I make my way to the next destination. Alleppey, goes on the ‘to do with a lover’ list. Though, I have yet to find one whose company, I enjoy more than my own.

Solo Date #49-Kanyakumari

After a month of meandering through the countryside, I feel relieved at reaching Kanyakumari. After a day of lazing around, I start to look around. A walk along the seashore, a meal and a refreshing juice later, I make my way to the Gandhi memorial.